The Big Ten’s first-round quarterback drought continued this year. Despite a strong class of signal callers, the league again failed to have a quarterback drafted in the opening round of the NFL draft, now making it 20 straight years without one since Penn State’s Kerry Collins went fifth overall in 1995.
Still, the draft wasn’t all bad news for Big Ten quarterbacks, as five of them heard their names called this past weekend. Today’s Take Two poses the question: Which Big Ten quarterback landed in the best NFL situation?
In general, I always believe the best situation for a rookie quarterback is one in which he has time to develop without a lot of pressure. That’s why I really worry about Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, who was already a polarizing prospect before the draft, being thrown into the cauldron with the New York Jets. That could get ugly.
Ohio State’s Jones could have been a high pick had he come out following the 2014 season, when he started just three games but won a national championship. Jones likely wouldn’t have been anywhere near ready for the NFL at that point, however. Jones’ decision to return to the Buckeyes, where he lost his starting job and perhaps a lot of money, can be criticized after he ended up in the fourth round (139th overall), going to Buffalo. But here’s the good news: Jones won’t be pronounced the team’s savior right away. The Bills have a clear starter in Tyrod Taylor, though he’s unsigned beyond this upcoming season. They’ve also got EJ Manuel, meaning Jones can hold a clipboard on game days and continue to work on his skills during the rest of the week. Buffalo is a small media market where there won’t be much of a spotlight on him for a while (though, hopefully, Jones will continue to entertain us on Twitter).
Jones remains somewhat a boom-or-bust project. But as a fourth-rounder, he’s much more likely to either be a pleasant surprise or a mild disappointment. Whether he can harness his immense skills and become a legitimate NFL starting quarterback is still a question. But Jones is in a great situation to figure that out.
Josh Moyer: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg (New York Jets, second round)
For the most part, I like Jones' situation. But I do wonder what kind of opportunity there will be in Buffalo, seeing as Taylor is just 26 years old. (Sure, his contract's up after this year. But will the Bills really let go of a quarterback who could be their best since Drew Bledsoe?)
That's a big reason why I like Hackenberg's situation with the Jets so much. It's not perfect -- but there's opportunity here, more than for any other Big Ten quarterback. So sure, Jones doesn't have to deal with as much pressure. But that's because he also doesn't have to deal with the prospect of significant playing time, either. That's quite the tradeoff, no?
But that's not the only reason I'm picking Hackenberg. The Jets allowed the sixth-fewest QB hits (71) last season and allowed the second-fewest sacks (22). And they also have quarterback whisperer Chan Gailey, who's worked with the likes of John Elway and Troy Aikman. He's also done wonders with Fitzpatrick and Tyler Thigpen, a seventh-round pick who threw 18 touchdowns to 12 interceptions in his second season. So it's really not a stretch to think he can groom Hackenberg into a serviceable signal-caller.
The Jets' ideal plan, and it's something GM Mike Maccagnan has alluded to, is for them to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick and let Hackenberg sit for a year. Wasn't that always the best-possible scenario for Hackenberg? With the Jets, Hackenberg should have a decent line and a quarterback guru -- and he could have a great situation. Granted, everything gets a bit trickier if Fitzpatrick holds out, but there are far worse situations than competing for a starting job in Year 1. Like, for example, never having a shot.
With the Jets, Hackenberg will get one eventually. Right now, how many other former Big Ten quarterbacks can say the same?